Grace Is Gone

| December 6, 2007

As one of the first films to reflect the impact of the Iraq War on the home front, Grace Is Gone marks the directorial debut of James C. Strouse, writer of Lonesome Jim. This highly sensitive subject matter is highlighted through a gender reversal of its central role as Stanley Phillips (John Cusack) stays at home to take care of his two daughters while his wife Grace is away at war. Stanley portrays a lowly Mid-Western patriotic husband who manages a home improvement store while attempting to raise his girls that he really doesn’t know and understand very well. Such is reflected in the beginning of the film during insightful moments at their dinner table when Stanley is seen in arguments with his older daughter Heidi (Shélan O’Keefe) or when she is caught watching news of the war. Individually, each member has difficulty in coming to terms with Grace’s absence overseas. Such turmoil is dramatized by a quiet crisis that befalls on Stanley when he learns that Grace has been killed in the line of duty. When his daughters, Heidi and Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk) come home from school Stanley is confounded by an awful dilemma, as he cannot figure out a way to tell them that their mother has dead as he is also still dealing with the grief and shock himself.
Suddenly and unexpectedly widowed, in lieu of speaking to them immediately about their mother’s death, Stanley internalizes his devastation as he is sorting through a myriad of conflicted and tumultuous feelings as well as how to break the shattering news. He “buys time” with the girls by suggesting a dinner out, which envelopes into a road trip when Dawn says that she wants to go theme park in Florida called Mystic Gardens, a disney-esqe amusement park, which is the foundation for the film.
Throughout the film, he continuously comes up with ways to delay the inevitable and cheer them up to soften the blow, whether becoming suddenly carefree by making “doughnuts” with his car in a field or when he is so relaxed about taking time off from school for there trip to Mystic Gardens. Heidi constantly questions his intentions as Dawn services as the light-hearted younger sister.
As the embark on their journey to the ethereal “Mystic Gardens” they stop at his mothers house where the meet up with Stanley’s younger liberal brother played by Allesandro Nivola. His brother, John services as the exact opposite of Stanley. Still living at home, John is opinionated about his beliefs against the war and questions our government, which services as a clash to Stanley who is ex-military and supporter of the war. These polar opposites reflect the passionate opinion of each character and their personal views. When his brother criticizes the war, Stanley is emotionally wounded as he feels it insults his wife and he can’t live with the idea that she may have just died for no good reason. This scene truly reflects Stanley’s inner journey and unrest as it showcases a vulnerability in Cusack.
Meanwhile, throughout the film he seeks solace by calling home where he speaks to his answering machine, which strangely enough still bears the voice of his wife. During theses moments we see Stanley allowing himself to finally stop pretending as he allows himself to be vulnerable and cry out for help. These moments also allow Stanley to begin his own healing process, so he could in turn tell his daughters.
Though Cusack is a veteran actor, Grace is Gone allowed him to showcase his talent through a raw intimacy and incredible depth. O’Keefe and Bednarczyk are equally astonishing in their roles, which are extremely complex and showcased a wide-range of reactions and emotions. In many ways the film is about his daughters and their strained relationship with their Dad that develops into their own healing process over the course of the film. Since the film is chiefly reflected through three characters, this template allowed for intense and contemplative moments of the actors, which reflects their solid performances and a true depth of their characters through different stages.
The marking of the film is reflected when Stanley pulls away from the road on their way home and finally tells his daughters the news of their mother. The music is cut-off as the audience is only left with the girl’s reactions. This supplies a moment when the film breaks away and we can all reflect on the brevity of the situation. Ending with the inevitable of the funeral as they embark on a new life together without Grace.

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